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Chelsea v Florentino: How the manager & his Sarri-ball convinced Hazard to stay

COMMENT: Chelsea. The place is bouncing. Four games. Four wins. The new players are bedding in. The new manager is charming all. And Eden Hazard... well, he's still in a Blues shirt.

His Dad wanted it. Even the player, just a month ago, admitted now was the time. But across Europe the market shut Friday with Hazard still a Blue. Yeah, Real Madrid made their 'attacking signing'. But it wasn't the Belgian. Instead, Florentino Perez, the Real president, was forced to go to Olympique Lyon and bring back Mariano Diaz. A deal done in the matter of 48 hours. A last resort? Not quite. But you get the gist - Mariano wasn't in the president's thinking for much of this summer.

Seven days out from the deadline, Hazard's father, Thierry, shut it all down: "I cannot say why it did not go through. Not because I do not want to but because I do not know.

"Perhaps he never ends up in Madrid."

So what changed? It seemed, as Thierry had claimed, this was the summer Hazard would make his Madrid move. "Madrid makes everyone dream," Eden was saying only in July. "With or without (Zinedine) Zidane, Madrid's shirt is special".

Some claim with Zidane's departure so ended Real's interest. But after Cristiano Ronaldo's defection to Juventus, the only realistic option to replace him was Belgium's captain. Sure, Florentino rated PSG's attacking pair Neymar and Kylian Mbappe ahead of him, but there was no way the Parisians were going to part with either player this summer. It was Hazard or bust. And if the Blues midfielder had really wanted the move, it would've happened. Kick up a fuss like Thibaut Courtois. Stay away. Down tools. Make it clear his time with Chelsea was over - and a deal was there to be done.

But a curious Hazard, unlike his Belgium teammate, did return. Before then, nothing was ruled out. As mentioned before in this column, Hazard is a homebody. He appreciates the lifestyle he and his family enjoy in London. If he must move, it would only be for something special. And of course, Real Madrid is just that. But going into the World Cup, he kept his options open - and in Russia both Chelsea and Sarri had a great ally - Dries Mertens.

Hazard made it no secret he spent much of his downtime pumping his Belgium teammate for information on Sarri. And the new Blues manager could not have counted on a better champion of his cause.

But he still had to see it for himself. And after victory against Bournemouth, Hazard's words left little doubt as to why it is Mariano now wearing the Merengues No7 and not him.

"I like this type of game," said the midfielder. "It's completely different than Antonio Conte or (Jose) Mourinho before. We have more ball so for me it's not bad."

He's enjoying himself. He's having fun. Which is really what drives Hazard. Sure he'll talk about trophies. About competing with the elite. But that's just politicking. Now in his seventh season with Chelsea, it's clear it's not determination that brings out Hazard's best, but enjoyment. And the manager, with his Sarri-ball system and relaxed approach to team culture, is what Hazard needs at this stage in his career.

For the Italian, Hazard is the most talented he's worked with. After just their first week together, Sarri had seen enough.

“We are talking about one of the most important players in Europe," he enthused, before adding, "but, in my opinion, he can improve more.

“He can be the first (in the world). It depends on him. The best for technical skill, the best for scoring, but I think it depends only on him. In his mind."

Almost four weeks on and you wonder if Sarri still has the same opinion. It's an opinion shared by every manager who has worked with Hazard. But at 59 and having worked his way up from the semi-pros of Italy, Sarri has been around long enough to know when to push and when to step back. Clearly, what he's doing is working.

Indeed, is there a better player on the planet right now? Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid's World Cup winner, is being pushed for this year's Ballon d'Or. After Russia and the Europa League titles, the Frenchman - on paper - has everything behind him to take out the gong. But right now, given a choice, who would you take to play for your life? Griezmann or Hazard?

Sarri is good for Hazard. With his battered specs and frayed notebook. He is everything you'd never see in the Bernabeu's home dugout. But Sarri's approach is bringing the best out of the Belgian.

"I like having the ball," says Hazard. "It's good. You can see (we're enjoying it)."

And for now, that's enough for Chelsea's No10.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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